SMART Associate Research Fellow, Dr Juan Castilla has taken his problem solving to the classroom using World Climate Simulation (WCS), a program developed by MIT in the United States, where Dr Castilla along with SMART Senior Research Fellow, Dr Ricardo Peculis and UNSW Associate Professor, Cameron Holley took students through the process of negotiating a climate change agreement.

“We believe in learning by doing and doing by learning,” he said.

“That’s why we want to push this model of learning into classrooms.”

The World Climate Simulation (WCS) is a role-playing exercise on the UN climate change negotiations. It is unique in that it uses an interactive computer model to rapidly analyse the results of the mock-negotiations between groups during the event.

The exercise is framed by current climate change science, using the interactive C-ROADS computer simulation, which allows participants to find out how their proposed policies impact the global climate system in real-time.

The exercise was undertaken with a group of environmental law students at UNSW and after exploring opportunities to enhance classroom learning through participatory modelling exercises.

“We divided the students into three groups, developed nations, rapidly developing nations, and other developing nations,” Dr Castilla said.

“The results were surprising.

“At first, the poorer countries believed they had no power over the problem and so they just had to wait until the richer countries came to an agreement.

“They had to come up with pledges on emissions, and at first, they came up something which was worse than the Paris agreement.”

The game-changer was being able to show students the consequences of inaction using actual climate simulations that showed how the world would change by 2100.

“After that, we tried to build some hope, and discussed ways that we could reduce emissions by making decisions in our daily life.”

Following the success of the exercise, Dr Castilla and A/Prof Holley are looking to expand. Students were highly engaged and valued the opportunity to learn about a complex topic through interactive role-play, negotiation and interaction with peers and the simulator.

Dr Castilla and A/Prof Holley would now like to conduct the same exercise with students at the University of Wollongong. They are also pursuing funding to develop customised exercises and develop similar models to address a wide range of issues from air pollution to traffic congestion.

“In the end, it’s all about people, and particularly our students, owning the problems they face and the solutions they come up with,” Dr Castilla said.

“There is no point doing good science if we don’t put it in a form that the people who need it can actually learn, understand, and act in a meaningful way. Using management flight simulators in the classroom is an important and necessary step in this direction.”